Archive for the ‘Bibliophilia’ Category

Digital dragnet

May 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Future Crimes – Marc Goodman

Future Crimes

Everything is connected, so we are in big trouble: hackers, stalkers, criminals are going to get us online and offline. Social networking and search engine big wigs are stealing bits and pieces of us we voluntarily publish on the net and hand over to criminals, rogue governments, sophisticated crime syndicates. The drones are out. Our genomes will be hacked. Terrorists, drug traffickers, pedophiles haunt Darknet, the subterranean internet beyond the reach of Google. Bitcoin and other encrypted digital currencies will aid Crime Inc. IoT (Internet of Things) will spell our doom. Cars will be hacked. Prosthetics will be hacked. Plant control systems and traffic controls will be invaded by lethal worms such as Stuxnet. Governments spy on us. We are vulnerable in this connected world and we are totally unprotected, unaware and unprepared to face the impending dangers. Our antivirus software are wholly inadequate against the onslaught of Trojans, malware’s that are churned out by the millions evey year by Crime Inc. Soon mankind will drown in this digital grey-goo. We are at the inflexion of an exponential curve of digital growth which is poised to transform from the hitherto 2D world to 3D via developments in 3D printing, robotics, synthetic biology etc. The path forward is strewn with technological, moral, ethical, strategic challenges which require a paradigm shift in thought and decision making.

What do we do. Be careful when you connect to internet. Use VPN. Use firewall. Use application white listing. Use safe browsers. Do not use admin rights on PC while browsing internet. Keep software up to date. Other wise it’s calamity, catastrophe, doom. That’s the basic message of the book.

Not sure of it’s all hyperbole or hyper-paranoia. It’s fascinating reading if you are interested in the subject. The writing is sensational. The promotional video at the book’s website looks like the trailer of a thriller. Be your own judge. Hopefully the potential terrors mentioned may never come to pass. In my view, one should not take the book at face value; at the same time I doubt if one should lose sleep over a digital invasion and disruption of normal life at this juncture. Again I could be wrong. Only time can tell and it usually keeps it’s mouth shut until it’s all over…….

Categories: Bibliophilia

The Art of Thinking Clearly – Rolf Dobelli

April 22, 2015 Leave a comment

The Art of Thinking Clearly

I had picked the book up at Cochin Airport a month back.
The book lists 98 cognitive/ logic errors that we humans tend to make, with examples from various fields – primarily economics. The book relies on latest neuroscience and cognitive psychology research. It is also peppered with evolutionary psychology explanations for many of the errors, along the lines of “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” .

I found the book an interesting read. To me it seems beneficial to be aware of one’s shortcomings which is a definite step towards overcoming them. But the trouble is to remember all the errors and to systematically avoid them during decision making. Well, no worries. This is where your mobile can help. There is an android application (probably iPhone as well) by the same name for less than $2 available in Google Play. The app provides a gist of all the errors and well as a decision making menu which will give you a list of errors associated with different types of decisions. Worth checking out after reading the book.

I especially liked the following part in the book’s epilogue:

The Pope asked Michelangelo: ‘Tell me the secret of your genius. How have you created the statue of David, the masterpiece of all masterpieces?’ Michelangelo’s answer: ‘It’s simple. I removed everything that is not David.’

Thinking more clearly and acting more shrewdly means adopting Michelangelo’s method: don’t focus on David. Instead, focus on everything that is not David and chisel it away. In our case: eliminate all errors and better thinking will follow.
My take on it:

Of course it is all very well. If Michelangelo had no clue of David in his head and if he had hacked away at that piece of Carrara marble removing everything non-David, the best we would have had now would be a floor tile.

Google App:


Categories: Bibliophilia

Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

March 18, 2015 Leave a comment


Just finished reading this book. Though full of loose ends and characters who exist just to push the narrative forward, this is an absorbing mystery/ thriller interspersed with the author’s philosophical insights and political observations and inclinations foisted on the characters. At times surrealistic in its description of nature and incidents, it is certainly much more than a mere adrenaline pusher. The only jarring note I can think of is that the voice of the narrator does not change with his age. Otherwise, this book has it all, murder, mystery, vendetta, intrigue, sex, terror, sacrifice, treachery – all the ingredients that make an engrossing read.

Does the sins of our childhood haunt us so much into adulthood; can it bring such ruin, such destruction as described in the book?. I have difficulty imagining it. That way the characters in The Shadow of The Wind are entirely fictitious, caught up in a maelstrom of desire, vengeance and rapacity which are largely absent in life with its mundane rhythms. I liked it primarily for the dark and gloomy atmosphere that pervades the book and its overtones of magical realism.

Go for it, if not for sheer pleasure, at least for a flight of fancy…

The Shadow of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Categories: Bibliophilia

In Anticipation

February 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The Tartar Steppe

A wonderfully crafted tale of anticipation and disappointment, set in an isolated fort beside a desolate desert.
Short, crisp, captivating…

Once you finish it, what will remain is an ache. And a suspicion that your own life is unfolding in a similar pattern…

Here are some excerpts that I liked best…

(Chapter 6)
Up to then he had gone forward through the heedless season of early youth – along a road which to children seems infinite, where the years slip past slowly and with quiet pace so that no one notices them go. We walk along calmly, looking curiously around us; there is not the least need to hurry, no one pushes us on from behind and no one is waiting for us; our comrades, too, walk on thoughtlessly, and often stop to joke and play. From the houses, in the doorways, the grown up people greet us kindly and point to the horizon with an understanding smile. And so the heart begins to beat with desires at one heroic and tender, we feel that we are on the threshold of the wonders awaiting us further on. As yet we do not see them, that is true – but it is certain, absolutely certain that one day we shall reach them.
Is it far yet? No, you have to cross that river down there, go over those green hills. Haven’t we perhaps arrived already> Aren’t these trees, these meadows, this white house perhaps what we were looking for? For a few seconds we feel that they are and we would like to halt there. Then someone says that it is better further on and we move off again unhurriedly.
So the journey continues; we wait trustfully and the days are long and peaceful. The sun shines high in the sky and it seems to have no wish to set.
But at a certain point we turn around, almost instinctively, and see that a gate has been bolted behind us, barring our way back. Then we feel that something has changed; the sun no longer seems to be motionless but moves quickly across the sky; there is barely time to find it when it is already falling headlong towards the far horizon. We notice that the clouds no longer lie motionless in the blue gulfs of the sky but flee, piled one above the other, such is their haste. Then we understand that time is passing and that one day or another the road must come to an end.
At a certain point they shut the gate behind us, they lock it with lightning speed and it is too late to turn back. But at that moment Giovanni Drogo was sleeping, blissfully unconscious, and smiling in his sleep like a child.
Some days will pass before Drogo understands what has happened. Then it will be like and awakening. He will look around him incredulously; then he will hear a din of footsteps at his back, will see those who awoke before him running hard to pass him by, to get there first. He will feel the pulse of time greedily beat out the measure of life. There will be no more laughing faces at the windows but unmoved and indifferent ones. And if he asks how far there is still to go they will, it is true, still point to the horizon – but not good naturedly, not joyfully. Meanwhile his companions will disappear from view. One gets left behind, exhausted; another has outstripped the rest and is now no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.
Another ten miles – people will say – over that river and you will be there. Instead it never ends. The days grow shorter, the fellow-travelers fewer; at the windows apathetic figures stand and shake their heads.
At last Drogo will be alone and there on the horizon stretches a measureless sea, motionless, leaden. Now he will be tired; nearly all the houses along the way will have their windows shut and the few persons he sees will answer him with a sad gesture. The good things lay further back – far, far back and he has passed them by without knowing it. But it is too late to turn back; behind him swells the hum of the following multitude urged on by the same illusion but still invisible on the white road.
At this moment Giovanni Drogo is sleeping in the third redoubt. He is smiling in his dreams. For the last time there come to him by night sweet sights of a completely happy world. It is as well that he cannot see himself as he will one day be – there at the end of the road, standing on the shores of the leaden sea under a grey, monotonous sky. And around him there is not a house, not one human being, not a tree, not even a blade of grass. And so it has been since time immemorial.

(Chapter 17)
This is the time when an obstinate lament from life reawakens in the old beams. Many, many years ago in happier times there had been a surge of heat and youthful strength and clusters of buds sprang from the boughs. Then the tree had been cut down. And now it is spring and in each of its dismembered parts there still awakens a pulse of life, an infinitely weaker pulse. Once there were leaves and flowers; now only a dim memory, enough to make a cracking noise and then it is over until the next year.
(Chapter 24)
Little by little his hopes grew fainter. It is difficult to believe in a thing when one is alone and there is no one to speak to. It was at this period that Drogo realized how far apart men are whatever their affection for each other, that if you suffer the pain is yours and yours alone, no one else can take upon himself the least part of it; that if you suffer it does not mean that other feel pain even though their love is great: hence the loneliness of life.

You can get a bootleg copy of the ebook from here:

The Tartar SteppeDino Buzzati

Categories: Bibliophilia

Braving the Harmattan

I have built a formidable collection of travel books over the years. Many of them still lie on the shelf awaiting their turn. Sometimes, driven by pangs of guilt at having accumulated so many, yet read so few, I take them out, flip through fondly and return to their place. I realize that it is another form of addiction or obsessive compulsion. Step into a book store and all of a sudden I’m seized by this uncontrollable urge to buy, buy and buy! If there is a sale, then I’m on rampage. Off late I have been able to reign in this impulse somewhat. Still my brain cells buzz every time I pass by Landmark, Om Books, Reliance Time Out and Crossword.

To return to where we started, my affinity for travel books began with Bruce Chatwin‘s “In Patagonia”. Once the ball got rolling, I went on to read Paul Theroux followed by Eric Newby, Michael Palin, Tim McIntosh Smith, Colin Thubron, V S Naipaul, Wifred Thesiger, Robert Byron, Peter Mathiessen, Pico Iyer, the list goes on and on. Jeffrey Tayler’s “The Lost Kingdoms of Africa” was the last one I read. I had never heard of the author before. He did not figure in the travel writer’s hall of fame. I had picked the book during a discount sale at Landmark. But, once started, I was hooked. “Lost Kingdoms” is one of the most empathetic travelogues I have ever read. It is shorn of the high brow, sardonic spectator attitude easily discernible in Paul Theroux and V S Naipaul.

The book is a fervent account of Tayler’s journey through Sahel, the Harmattan ravaged shrub land south of Sahara desert. He covers over 2500 miles of utter desolation, travelling through countries (Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal) plagued by drought, abject poverty, disease, various forms of extremism and religious and ethnic wars. The terrain is dangerous and inhospitable, circumstances exiguous. Yet Africans are generous, affectionate and welcoming, willing to share their meager supply of food and shelter with him. Tayler is understanding and non judgmental in his views except when he encounters arcane traditions of slavery and infibulations, and rightly so. His language is evocative, almost poetic when it comes to describing nature.

The book reaffirms our impression of an Africa in dire straits with little hope of improvement in the years ahead. The billions spent in aid are siphoned off by corrupt dictators and their cohorts with little of it reaching the needy. Since most governments are propped up by western aid money rather than tax from the people, they do precious little to improve the lot of the citizens. Tayler places the historical responsibility of Africa’s current predicament squarely on Western colonial interests who carved nations and borders according to own administrative and military convenience without regard to the continent’s complex ethnic, religious and tribal identities. Predominantly Muslim, harbouring a sense of humiliation and nurturing strong anti-western sentiments, Africa, according to Tayler, is poised to erupt in terrorist violence.

Fascinating and poignant, the book is a must read for those who really wish for an honest, forthright and realistic perspective of the Dark Continent.

Categories: Bibliophilia

Back To The Future

April 27, 2010 3 comments

For a long long time I hadn’t read any science fiction, although it was one of my favourite genres. Last week, on impulse I took up Alfred Bester‘s The Demolished Man. Once started, I couldn’t put it down and finished the novel in a few hours. Talk about reading at the speed of light!

Futuristic New York sets the stage for this psycho-sci-fi where mind reading capabilities of telepaths called peepers have successfully averted crimes, especially murder, for the past 70 years. Ben Reich, owner of Monarch Enterprises is haunted by nightmarish visions of “The Man With No Face” whom he identifies as his business rival D’Courtney. By enlisting the support of corrupt Esper Augustus Tate, Reich manages to murder his competitor, after his attempts at reconciliation are rejected. During the subsequent murder investigation, ace peeper and sleuth Lincoln Powell discovers that Reich is the murderer and sets about building the case for his “demolition”. His quest for the murder motive, method and opportunity are repeatedly thwarted by Reich. Just when Powell has gathered all evidences for Reich’s conviction an unexpected turn of events renders the case invalid. Powell comes to realize that his adversary is unconscious of the real murder motive and that he could prevent further disaster only at great personal cost.

The central characters of the novel are subtly nuanced – Reich is not the archetypal villain and Powel is not the typical saintly investigator. Both have their flaws and redeeming qualities. The battle of wits between the two men and the surprising celestial twists and turns keep you glued. Bester ensnares your attention and keeps it till the last word. The end is unexpected even though one could make out its vague outlines from the several clues scattered over the pages. Overall, an excellent piece of sci-fi, with a social message which could be realized only in the realm of imagination at the moment. Future beckons…

 Comment: Excellent read if you fancy science fiction

Categories: Bibliophilia

Kafka on the Shore – Sparkling Bullshit or Baffling Erudition?

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

This novel is kind of weird. It is populated with strange events – fishes and leeches fall from the sky for reasons left unexplained; and stranger characters – a diabolical whiskey mascot, a fast food icon masquerading as a pimp, a crow of a conscience, two frozen in time World War II Japanese soldiers guarding the entrance to a parallel world deep inside a jungle and more. Two concurrent plots converge briefly and part ways, the connection between them vague, tenuous.

The chief protagonist Kafka Tamura is a 15 year old boy with a suffocating emotional baggage, who runs away from home seeking to escape a dark prophesy. Nakata, his counterpart in the parallel narrative is a self confessed retard who talks to cats. Pried loose from his quotidian existence at Nakano ward, Nakata is driven by mysterious fate into a metaphysical journey of revelations, to set the universe back in order. Other characters, most significantly the transsexual library assistant Oshima and bellicose yet conscientious truck driver Hoshino, guides and assists Kafka and Nakata in their respective journeys. The novel is interlaced with several philosophical observations and the author’s opinion on various subjects, especially music.

Quoted below are the ones that I found most mystifying:

 “But people need to cling to something, they have to, you are doing the same, even though you don’t realize. It’s as Goethe said: “everything is a metaphor”.”

 “everything in life is a metaphor. We accept irony through a device called metaphor. And through that we grow and become deeper human beings”

 “But irony deepens a person, helps them to mature. It’s the entrance to salvation on a higher plane, to a plane where you can find a more universal kind of hope”

 “Man doesn’t choose fate. Fate chooses man. That’s the basic world view of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues”

 “A revelation leaps over the borders of the everyday. A life without revelation is no life at all. What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts…”

 “that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through limitless accumulation of the imperfect”

 “The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory”

There are many more, some makes sense some don’t. The refrain, “everything is a metaphor” recurs throughout possibly to emphasize the allegorical nature of the novel.

It was difficult for me to identify closely with Kafka. Miss Saeki in her real and spiritual manifestations did not touch a chord. In my opinion, the characters closest to reality in the novel are Hoshino and Nakata (despite his bewildering capabilities). This is not a book easily understandable on the first reading. There are a medley of situations and characters, some apparently superfluous – the prostitute philosopher and the coffee shop owner who postures as a western classical music expert for example. Aside from expounding the author’s  philosophical stand or opinion on music these characters do not appear to have any bearing on the plot. The import of Beethoven’s Archduke’s Trio to the storyline is also completely incomprehensible to me.

A complex fabric of  myth, mystery, magic and realism – not really endearing on the first read, but worth returning to – that is how I would describe the book. On the positive side, the language of the English version is simple and dialogues crisp and flowing, thanks to skillful translation by Peter Gabriel.

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Categories: Bibliophilia

The Snow Leopard – A Zen Meditation

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Just finished reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.

In this epic journey Matthiessen accompany biologist George Schaller to Crystal Mountain in the Inner Dolpo region of Nepal to examine the behaviour of Bharal (blue sheep) during oestrus. It is as much a journey through Himalayas as an inner quest, a pilgrimage as well as a scientific expedition. Matthiessen never actually sights a Snow Leopard, but has to content with numerous pug marks. But the experience and the narrative are spellbinding.

I read a large part of the book in fragments while travelling, though the last 100 pages or so I finished in a near single sitting.

The grueling trek across a frozen wasteland, surmounting high passes, braving blizzards and crossing murderous torrents along valleys and summits of the Himalayas; the Sherpa’s and porters, yak herds, Lamas, the monasteries and Gompas, fluttering prayer flags, the reverberations of Om Mani Padme Hum, occasional references toYeti, the stalking of blue sheep, the birds, beasts and men that he meets along the way – all of it makes compelling reading. The ice crested pinnacles and falling snow vividly coloured my imagination as I walked the trail along with the author. The inner peace and the sense of being one with nature and the scheme of things that comes to Matthiessen permeated me too. I regretted his return to civilization at the end of the expedition as much as Matthiessen.

The book is semi-autobiographical with many references to his children and deceased wife. There are several allusions to Buddhism, its history and practice which demands reflective reading. To me the book  is definitely among the ones that have touched an inner chord. I guess I’ll return to it again and again. 

Most recommended.


Categories: Bibliophilia

My favourite ebook sites

November 6, 2009 Leave a comment

I do not endorse ebook piracy. But all said and done, there are several sites where you could obtain free ebooks, sometimes even of recent releases. It did not surprise me to find an e-copy of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” on the net, the day it was published.

Listed below are my favourite ebook sites:
The ultimate free ebook website. All you need is to search for the author/ title and presto… you have it. Well, not  that easily.  But it is definitely a treasure house for ebooks.
Similar to scribd. Here is your chance to exercise your search skills. The results could surprise you.
My personal favourite. A literature buff’s closely guarded site. I do not reveal it to many.  Here you would find literary gems that are not available anywhere else on the net. A jewel in the crown.

 The best ebook search engine I have come across:

I also search and for ebooks. These offer links to rapidlibrary or megaupload from where you can download the ebooks.

Insatiable bibliomaniacs, please check this link for an excellent listing of 20 best free ebook web sites.

Categories: Bibliophilia

The Double – José Saramago

November 6, 2009 1 comment

the double

Just finished reading The Double by José Saramago. It was my introduction to this Nobel Prize winning author.

The story revolves around Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a reclusive history teacher suddenly confronted by his double. Afonso encounters his duplicate in a video recommended by his colleague. He chases him down despite a sinister foreboding about the consequences. Tragic events unfold, impelled by fate, once they meet.

It is said that every person has a double somewhere in the world. But we rarely ever come face to face with them in real life. In the story, destiny has located Afonso’s doppelgänger in the very same city. Saramago asserts the we can never tolerate the existence of a double once we realize their existence.

The narrative style is smooth although a single line can run into a whole paragraph punctuated by commas. Conversations frequently go back and forth spanning pages, the characters and speech discernible only by the uppercase and context. Occasionally the author appears in the guise of a narrator and inserts curious expositive passages bordering on the frivolous.

Saramago managed to capture my imagination. His facility for storytelling is remarkable. To me the plot is only marginally interesting. The anecdotes, the perspicacious insights, the style of narrative, the subtle humour and the almost poetic usage of words are what really endeared me to José Saramago. I do not have most of his works. I’m itching to lay my hands on “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” next.

Click here for an interesting review of the book.

Categories: Bibliophilia